Walton area captain gives back to fellow wounded soldiers
Outdoorsman Mark McDuffie has been fishing the waterways of the Choctawhatchee River since he was five-years-old. Now 32, the Geneva, Ala. born McDuffie knows all the sweet spots along the river and enjoys sharing his knowledge of the area. McDuffie remembers his family spending weekends at McDaniel’s Fish Camp in Freeport, fishing along Black Creek, the river and the Bay.
“I’ve enjoyed fishing here all my life,” McDuffie said with a smile.
In 1997, McDuffie joined the Air Force and spent two tours of duty in Iraq, the first in 2005-2006 and the second in 2007. In March of 2007 McDuffie almost lost his life in a devastating roadside bomb attack. The attack claimed the lives of McDuffie’s comrades Marine Staff Sergeant Dusty Gould and Navy Corpsman Luke “Doc” Emch. McDuffie sustained devastating injuries to the bottom of his feet, almost losing both.
Sent to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., doctors wanted to amputate; however, McDuffie had other plans. 58 surgeries later, doctors used muscles from his calves and stomach to reconstruct his feet. He was sent home in a wheelchair with a handful of medications and little coping mechanisms to deal with the trauma of his injuries and experience.
After a two-year recovery McDuffie was walking again, and found solace getting back to what he loved, fishing.
“Now, whenever I get stressed, I spend an hour on the water fishing,” McDuffie explained.
L-R: Tony Bigot, Bass Pro Shops pro fisherman, Mark McDuffie and Bass Pro Shops manager, Ryan Cox. Bass Pro is one of McDuffie’s sponsors providing Quantam rods and reels and Mann’s Bait Company. Photo courtesy Tony Bigot.
It wasn’t long before McDuffie realized the value of that comfort, and started thinking about ways he could share his love of fishing with other wounded soldiers. He came up with the idea of a charter and named it Wounded Warrior Fishing.
After receiving his captain’s license McDuffie became a peer mentor with the Wounded Warrior Project, a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide programs and services to injured service members.
After sending out several emails, the ball started rolling and sponsorships started pouring in from several corporations. Maverick Boats provided a custom built 24 ft. Pathfinder at cost. Maverick measured McDuffie’s size, stance and step to provide a perfect fitting vessel. Assistance also came from Yamaha as well as local support from The Ship’s Chandler in Destin. Tony Bigot, Bass Pro Shops local pro fisherman representative arranged for contributions that included Bass Pro Shops products, Quantam rods and reels, and Mann’s Bait Company. Bigot also arranged for raffles with two local bass fishing clubs, Hub City Bassmasters in Crestview and Guy’s and Gal’s Bass Club in Valparaiso raising $2,247.00.
Wounded Warrior Fishing launches from Live Oak Landing in Freeport. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors
As everything was coming together, McDuffie approached Neil Sorrel, general manager of Live Oak Landing in Freeport about his idea. He asked if they would offer some of their RV cottages to the wounded warriors while fishing with his charter. A friendship sparked and a partnership ensued.
“It was the perfect fit, we were looking for a charter service to offer at Live Oak Landing” Sorrel said. “We were happy to help out with Mark’s idea.”
Live Oak Landing is an RV resort located on Black Creek near the Choctawhatchee Bay. It offers RV space rentals, cottage rentals and kayak/canoe rentals. It is also the location of the old McDaniel’s Fish Camp.
McDuffie’s idea blossomed, and now a full service fishing charter offering free fishing and sightseeing trips to wounded warriors along the river systems and the bay.